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Should Brookline give up a car lane for bikes?

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A convex mirror reflects Beacon Street traffic near Washington Square in Brookline.
A convex mirror reflects Beacon Street traffic near Washington Square in Brookline.Lane Turner

BROOKLINE — A dedicated bike lane may soon be tested along a key section of Beacon Street between Coolidge Corner and Washington Square — but it would mean less room for drivers.

The plan calls for eliminating one of two traffic lanes along the westbound stretch of Beacon Street from Short Street, just past the Harvard Street intersection in Coolidge Corner, to Westbourne Terrace, just before the intersection at Washington Street.

"This will correct a key gap in the route from Boston," said Josh Safer, chair of the Brookline Transportation Committee, essentially giving cyclists a dedicated lane from Boston through Kenmore Square all the way to Newton Centre.

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The plan has been approved by the Brookline Transportation Committee and needs funding from this spring's Town Meeting before it is tested out. Officials say they'll see how car traffic is affected before making the bike lane permanent.

The stretch of Beacon Street is less than half a mile long. But without a bike lane, Safer said, cyclists face a dangerous situation when they pedal up Corey Hill as cars head from Coolidge Corner onto the narrowing roadway.

The transportation division of the town's Department of Public Works recommended the bike lane after completing a traffic study of the area last fall.

"Providing a bicycle lane will provide a complete street enabling safe access for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities," the report concluded.

But it also found that there could be significant impacts at the intersection of Beacon Street and Lancaster Terrace, where traffic stopped at the light could grow from about eight cars now to approximately 33.

Modifications to the traffic lights are proposed to help offset the backup. But Safer said the bike lane will be scrapped if the traffic consequences are too significant.

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"The concern is the evening rush hour, and if it completely incapacitates traffic westbound, that's not what we're looking for," he said. "If it's a disaster, we'll know pretty quickly."

The plan is now before the town's Advisory Committee, which will make a recommendation to Town Meeting.

The question is whether to recommend moving forward with a more expensive permanent paint to draw the lane lines, or a less expensive temporary paint that would have to be repainted if the test is successful, according to Safer. The warrant article calls for $36,000.

The committee is deciding which way to gamble, whether it is more financially sound to test the less expensive paint and assume the bike lane will be unsuccessful, or move forward with the permanent paint.

In either case, Safer said the assumption is that Town Meeting will move forward with funding of one paint or the other. Once the vote is final at Town Meeting, which begins on May 24, the painting of the dedicated bike lane will be scheduled.


Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.